Friday, August 11, 2017

Like 38s in Dalston: a singles round-up

Sorry, just realized we overlooked another modest pile of twelves on the basement floor – it was only really a few ‘techno’ platters (all things 128 bpm, give or take) that we got round to last time. And these aren’t singles that anyone should miss.

After last year's assuredly ace “Four Sides Of Truth” EP on Tresor, the ever-excellent Mønic resurfaces on his own Osiris Music with a different, more quixotic offering, “Deep Summer", which we’d herald as something of a landmark. It builds from gentle waves lapping engineered, beatless atmospherics through to Trembling Blue Stars recording an experimental ballad in an echo chamber before subsiding again to the sound of waters crashing onto the shoreline. 

The subtler textures and spectral female vocal sample swiftly put one in mind of Burial, so blow us down with a feather when none other than Burial himself rocks up with an ersatz (‘ersatz’ here meaning ‘bears virtually no resemblance to the original’) B-side remix, skewering the rare beauty of “Deep Summer” with stalkerish sampled speech, beatless spells and an avalanche of bells and xylophone; it's fascinating, but not in all honesty a banker for repeat listens.

(As an aside, it always gives us an involuntary grin when two artists that we’ve liked for ages eventually hook up, as if we were responsible for the matchmaking ourselves: like when Cappo finally recorded with Jazz T and Zygote, or when Carcass remixed Björk, or when Ice-T fronted Slayer, or when Shane Embury teamed up with Gunshot, or indeed when Shane Embury played with Mark E. Smith… next on our list, we’re hoping for Bracken to remix Coke Bust).

But what’s this? Issued just two weeks later - surely a record for a follow-up single, although we’re told that it’s really just to be treated as part 2 of an Osiris ‘deep summer’ salvo - comes that man Mønic again, with “Regret Was Never So Sure”, a very different beast from the sultry summer ballad of 14 days before. 

"Regret..." is a procession of spinning DnB-infused majesty - shot through with a monstrous wall of clambering bass - that doesn’t neglect the industrial influences that made “Lust Product” (Mønic’s last EP under his birth name, Simon Shreeve) such a cooker. And the B-side, which couples a blissed-out Regis remix of the title track with the slightly subtler reverb-drizzled ambience of “Forbidden Memories”, ensures that this is an all-round 12” of some calibre.

There are two more here from Osiris too: the Egyptian gods are spoiling us. The mysterious Icore (if you try googling her/him, you get the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts, which seems wrong on several levels) delivers a debut 12” over five tracks called “Substance Over Shadow, which will be manna for label devotees. On brilliant, bright, Lalique-green vinyl, too.

The title track is perhaps the easiest to admire – peals of languid melody and glistening synth swathes oozing from a muggy swirl of dustbowl percussion – yet there’s much to be said for the multi-textured post-industrial lament, “Stasis Field” and the windblown moors of heaving bracken summoned to mind by the imperious “Claimed By Night”.

Meanwhile the artful Pessimist brings his ‘A’ game with the splendidly sinister “Pagans”, a sinewy slice of brittle and unnerving West country DnB-meets-darkstep that sounds like a ghost train shuddering over volcanic sleepers of bass that. In the words of fellow Bristolian artists the Flatmates, it shimmers in the night / like a firefly, burning bright (shout outs to William Blake there, too). Thankfully, we managed to hit up “Pagans” on the re-press.

If anyone’s pining for further Burial remix thrills, he pops up again on (silver) 12" vinyl on the flip of Goldie’s “Inner City Life” 2017 redux, on Metalheadz of course. “ICL” remains a classic tune, and it’s not Goldie’s fault that if you don’t turn the volume up enough it can now seem redolent of the sound of a thousand (outer city) London coffee tables. But here the rebooted A-side feels right, starting deceptively commercially with Diane Charlemagne’s vocal flourishes before it moves on to an instrumental section that sparkles with some serious jaw-sliding drum and bass antics. 

As for the Burial version, it’s as intense as his “Sweetz” collabo on the last Zomby album, with all the energy, fire and fury that he has largely eliminated from his own recent run of singles. Unlike his take on “Deep Summer”, you can also recognise it as a remix, rather than purely an opportunity for free-form creative (com)posing.

But let’s end with this latest West Norwood Cassette Library 12” on Sneaker Social Club, “Hardcore Librarianism”. Ah, it’s a time capsule that transports us back to the turn of our century, when D’Alma and I used to roll around SW4 in a sports car gauchely blaring out DJ Cam, Junkie XL, Teenagers In Trouble Vs. Fat Paul and an absolute barrel-load of French hip-hop (er, we were young, and the new Shinkansen releases didn’t really sound right riding Clapham High Street with the Koni air-shocks). 

And I know we would have loved this EP to death, splicing “(Every Time You Touch Me) I Get Hype” with Dee-Jay Punk-Roc and “Theme To Street Knowledge” with Kid 606’s caustically lo-fi V/Vm take on its daddy, “Straight Outta Compton”. Now those days are gone, yet the cheek and joy of this record still hits the spot (see also: DMX Krew) and we’ve also discovered that it’s great music to clean out a paddling pool to, especially when the drum and bass elements get going on side B. Sample clearance, I hear you say? Mate, that's a young man's game.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Comrade Era: a singles round-up

Strictly vinyl this time around – if it’s not weighing down our shelves (in a slightly consterning fashion, truth be told) we don't want to know.

And as physical artefacts go, it's quite hard to top Aleja Sanchez's “Ether” 12”, courtesy of our friends in Tübingen, at Nachtstrom Schallplatten (currently hangin’ with Firestation Records and Nuclear Blast amongst our fave German labels). On gorgeous, mottled marbled vinyl that nicely frames a pseudo-classical portrait, this really looks the part - a real work of art - before you even get it anywhere near the turntable. 

There’s a slight false start when proceedings begin with Headless Horseman’s merely v. good remix, but once the original appears everything’s gravy, as the queen of Colombian techno now authors a cool 8:40 (they’d have loved this one at the Ace Café) of pure precision engineering that wouldn't be out of place flanking Ryuji Takeuchi ‘s “Vital” in your DJ set. Her recent “Consequences” EP on Kindcrime is arguably even better, but we're waiting in hope for a vinyl release on that.

A more conventional patented dancefloor-botherer comes courtesy of Stockholm monster Mikael Jonasson, with his new transglobal EP on invariably spot-on Sydney imprint Darknet. Lead-off cut “Dissonance” is peak-time ‘new wave of techno’ done well, menacing synths adding a layer of rage in the darkness (with Austrian wizard at the controls, Niereich, then chipping in a bracing ‘Repaint’ for good meassure). The B-side, for its sins, combines “Dissidents” (high velocity acid burn with brief trance drop outs, totally ace, and a sweet jinking sidestep at 5’01 that hits like an instant sherbet rush) with the more playful “Vibrant”. Play alongside DJ Hi-Shock.

We've kept a weather eye out for Ukrainian maestro Yan Cook ever since he guested on ON records’ 6th anniversary comp, and “Arrival”, a sort of blurrily translucent grey vinyl 12” on his own Cooked label, is his closest brush with greatness yet, a swiftly-pulsing willo the wisp of elastic, uptempo tech-yes that would make an audition shoe-in for either of Sven Wittekind’s current labels. Meanwhile another ON alumnus, the mighty Amsterdam producer Jeff Rushin, delivers a 12” artist EP on Arts Collective centred around the dancefloor ready, gently mesmeric, cut-glass sequencer mesh of “Wondering”.

In our last year-end top 10, we raved about Sweden-based producer Sev Dah and the two outstanding solo records with which he kicked off his own Proletarijat imprint last year. “Proletarijat 003”, you’ll be thoroughly unshocked to learn, is the third release on the label, and again it chooses to book-end two techno stompers with a more traditional/experimental piece, at the same time as telling us a piece of Yugoslav history (this time the pic sleeve features Pioneer boys and girls pledging to love their homeland, the self-managed socialist federal republic of Yugoslavia, and to “spread brotherhood and unity and the principles for which comrade Tito fought” - yaay).

Logically enough, "003" kicks off with “Pledge”, a tight, percussive 9-minute cling-to-the dancefloor groove; that then subsides in favour of pivot track “The Universal Mother”, which tangles mournful cello, piano and violin with vicious whipcracks of foundry-born percussion and sounds not unlike Hood or the Declining Winter to these ears (mind you, everything sounds a bit like Hood to us: Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”, anyone?)

The highlight of the 12", however, may be “Sloga” (Serbo-Croatian for ‘unity’, as you'll know) which musically charts a course midway between the sacred isles of Rushin and Moroder, making it almost as essential as Sev’s finest tune to date, the frenziedly acidic “Marija Bursać” which so deftly adorned 001. It’s guaranteed to throng any clubland dive worth its salt, and we don’t doubt for one minute that the Pioneers would thoroughly approve.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Caffs, not corporations: a singles round-up

[glamorous harrow, July 2017]

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of the times, the ever-grumpier fanzine from the country in which being allowed to change your mind is apparently undemocratic, however many people are up for it, however idiotic or tainted your original decision was, and however long ago it took place.

Ooh, anyway, a singles round-up… we haven’t had one of these for a while, have we? Back in the early 2000s, we’d fire out one a month, usually in excitable lower case, usually beginning with some extensive digression before, if you readers in your younger days were lucky, eventually getting to the 'substance'.

Anyway, we found ourselves up near Stonebridge Park the other day. Long story, involving somebody who feels the need to pilgrimage to literally every station on the London Underground. We’re increasingly realising as we accompany him how many tube stations really are in the middle of an unremarkable nowhere, all reminders of the flipside of the grand promises of Metroland. Anyway, some of you may know Stonebridge as the home of the Ace Café, the transport caff once the favoured haunt of the Rockers in the 1950s and 1960s; and as we mulled over its latest, somewhat self-conscious makeover, we remembered that tale of the café jukebox and the North Circular raceway.

The deal was this: one of the bikers would get ready, as his mates lined up a platter that mattered from the juke. As the vinyl flipped into place and the needle fell, biker boy would run out to his waiting steed and go for a spin around the block. He had to be back in the Ace by the time the single finished. If he was, he’d have officially become a Ton-Up Boy, because you couldn’t make it around the ‘raceway’ in 3 minutes without having hit 100mph on the straight. Presumably, you could cue up a 2 minute rock and roller to give your racer no chance, or try to sneak on a bluesier four-minute 45 and give him all the time in the world. In the days before radio dared play rock n’ roll, the café jukebox was the easiest place to get your fix of all the new releases, so it’s probably safe to say we’d have been the ones safely indoors, nursing a fry-up and a cuppa and trying to listen to every single record rather than risk our callow necks outside.

As we mulled over the options you might have in that scenario today (psyche out rival bikers by cueing up “Velocity Girl”, help out your mates by putting on the B-side of the 2nd Gentle Despite single), we realised that it was high time for our own high-speed singles round up, one which recognised that a decent 45 can feel like it is worth risking your life, and more importantly, your reputation for. And also one which recognised that we haven’t reviewed any singles for more than six months. (Though it’s worth emphasising that the tunes mentioned below are but the tip of an iceberg of absolutely amazing 45s in 2017 so far: next time we catch up in the street or in the pub or skulking at the back of a venue there’ll be plenty of time for us to bore you about all the others, we hope).

Inevitably, after all that build-up, the first single on our pile isn’t actually on vinyl at all, which would have confused the hell out of north London 1958. Aussie combo Last Leaves, apparently last seen shacked up in the Dandenongs, feature a few names you’ll know, and who have starred in bands that we’ve penned eager words on over past decades, but I think it’s probably sufficient to let their music do most of the talking. The LLs recently announced their presence via a terrific contribution to Matinée’s “Matinee Idols” v/a comp, a swashbuckling belter of an indie pop song called “Something Falls” whose urgency and plaintiveness reminded us a soupcon of Hate Week’s near-flawless single last year, even if it drew back from the latter’s charmingly unsculpted chaos. This second Last Leaves song to hit our ears is “The World We Had”, a single on Melbourne’s Lost & Lonesome Recording Co, and it proves their upcoming album is going to be well worth looking out for, being an aquaplaning jumble of jangling guitars and erudite musicianship that knows just how to balance the sadnesses of growing older with the joy and vitality of modern, unashamedly in-yer-face pop music.

Coming from a slightly different angle, Crayola Summer’s “I Know Who We Are” (on Emotional Response) is one of those random records that comes out of nowhere and instantly embeds itself as both an earworm and a mini-classic. Everything about it is just right: it’s a cherry-red flexi-disc in wraparound pic sleeve, whilst the music within basically captures 14 Iced Bears’ “chrysalis moment” when, around the time of their first s/t, they rapidly evolved from post-anorak jangletastic to sweetly psychedelic shambling semi-chaos. “I Know Who We Are” takes these reference points and runs with them, very fast: the zig-zagging post-Bears bassline is a particular treat. It could have been released any time in the last 30 years or so, in all honesty, but it was born to grace a flexi like this.

We think you all know about the Fireworks by now, one of the best new British bands of recent years. Now with new lead vocalist Beth Arzy on board, their latest 7” EP, a Shelflife / Opposite Number joint, continues to see them luxuriating in the finest indie-pop traditions: the lead tune “Dream About You” is the smoothest and most instant, if perhaps marginally less raw than their first 45s, and it’s accompanied by the pretty ace “We’ve Been Wasting Time”, a buzzing minute and a half of down-the-line pop noise that co-opts Mary Chain fuzz with early Primitives, and our own pick “Better Without You Now”, a sublime jangler that picks up where the Razorcuts-y “Back To You” or “The Ghost Of You” had left off. We’ve now worked out that Cherry Red will get up to doing the “C17” box set comp in about 2046, at which point it feels pretty clear that one of these will have to be on it.

Erm, we’ve had cause to rep for the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy (née Experiment) a few times over recent seasons, too. Their train-themed “Network” EP, the final instalment of a trilogy on their own Breaking Down label, sees them continue to flit between light and shade, powering into view with the driving, horn-bled toe-tapper “Cross Country”, but the clincher for us is the closing Ian Curtis tribute, a cover version of “Disorder” which takes the template Low used for “Transmission” (switch down the pace, ratchet up the tension) and does it absolutely beautifully, especially when one-man brass section “Iceman” Harry Furniss rolls up. It’s reminiscent of Tim R’s earlier work with underrated Bristol genii Kyoko, a slice of slo-fi heaven.

The Jasmine Minks leave a wealth of jewels in their mighty wake, a cavalcade of characterful music that we unaccountably slept on for a good couple of decades until “I Heard I Wish It Would Rain” finally convinced us to delve properly into their Creation and later back catalogue. The latest addition to their ouevre is “Ten Thousand Tears”, a 7” on Oatcake Records all proceeds of which go to Motor Neurone Disease Scotland, and it’s a solemn, wry look back at life (with a plea to make the most of it) that is really made, for us, by the combination of Tom Reid’s gorgeous vocal and its brace of beautiful guitar instrumentals.

Last of all though, we can’t let this opportunity go by without mentioning the recent Burial single. Cool as ever on 10” in regulation matt-black Hyperdub sleeve, “Subtemple” continues the man’s journey of confounding us all by somehow managing, year upon year, to make each new release even more fragmented and subliminal than the previous one, as he progresses towards the position where Burial’s journey from “dance music” to “not even music” will be perfect and complete. It’s also now that we realise the urgency for the human race to create a viable time machine. Not just to try and head off chumps like Trump and Farage, but because we would *love* to go back to the heyday of Ace Café armed with a copy of this, and to see the sheer confusion it would have unleashed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

But that's not dry land...

One year on, then.

Hate crime up, of course (figures vary, but recent police force figures suggest around 100%). Inflation up tenfold. Wages growth down, as prices continue to rise. Applications for the NHS from the EU nursing staff we need to keep it running: down 96%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility's estimate of the direct cost of leaving the EU (a mere £60bn) - and that's before you take into account all the longer term costs of a shrinking economy and lower immigration from the EU - now looks rather optimistic, as the economy continues to decline. That Eurozone economy we kept hearing about is now doing rather better than ours.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister called an unnecessary General Election, whilst breastbeating about bleating EU bureaucrats. She asked us for a mandate for hard Brexit. She didn’t get it. She ploughs on with it anyway. Her opening offer to EU citizens: you can have less than what you have now. You can have less than the EU has already offered UK citizens abroad. This is pitiful. This affects people, friends and colleagues, who live and work here and have paid taxes here. For years. And weren't even given a vote in this. And now have to watch it all unfold, whilst telling their kids not to worry and that it will all be OK. This hurts our communities.

To hell with your "independence day". People are suffering already, and it looks like it will only get worse.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Popguns “Sugar Kisses” (Matinée Recordings)

Prodigy R.I.P. Another artist we’ve grown up with. So many stone cold classics.

* * * * *

Um, yes, we’re BACK. And you’d better believe we’re still angry about the UK’s downward spiral, the continued descent of both public discourse and the economic forecast since the collective madness of one year ago. And frankly find it hard to see past that, past a country that will ever-refuse to admit it just made a stupid mistake (oh could a joke ever go more wrong... and are you leaving just like that”), past a government of none-of-the-talents that’s about as 'strong and stable' as Ronan Point, and on top of that we find it so hard to grab the precious moments needed to appreciate the usual luscious panoply of absurdly ace records that 2017 has already delivered from every angle, what with work commitments and family and work and wanting to sleep too and work, and did we mention the nation being a total mess? But we expect you don’t need to hear about any of that. Sorry.

Luckily, it’s not just us who are BACK. For, re-emerging from the summery swells of the south coast, come those marvellous masters and mistresses of melody, the Popguns, purveyors of "Lovejunky" and "Still Waiting For The Winter", with their latest outing from their 21st century label home (ladies and gentlemen: now twenty years in showbusiness, the one, the only, the evergreen and ever-elegant Matinée Recordings of Santa Barbara). And that new 'guns long-player, “Sugar Kisses”, is ready to shack up with (sorry, 'snog') Eugenie & co in the Popguns section of your record collection (file between the Pop Group and Pop Threat, probably).

"Kisses" is a more muscular outing than the finely balanced textures of ‘proper’ LP number three, “Pop Fiction”: it boasts a sound more obviously rooted in the spirit of the Popguns' early records, but building on the momentum of “Pop Fiction” and the sonic diversity which that showcased. Yes, the rich tones of Wendy’s voice are still the icing on the cake: but the cake itself is made from toned and honed layers of *guitar* – fiery, vivacious, alive. It’s as if Simon and Wendy decided to get some of the ‘ballads’ out of the way on last year’s gorgeous Perfect English Weather album, so laying a trail for this return of the raw.

There are still a fair few flecks of light and shade, to be sure. There’s a pouting arrogance to the title track, a sassy and brazenly commercial number with ace backing coos and a serviceable bassline that’s lip-to-lip with the dancefloor, before the verses of the debonair “We Don’t Go Round There Anymore” mark the first appearance of the Blondie-via-Brighton American accent and phrasing that rears its head on a few tracks. Disconcerting as that is (since when was an offy a “liquor store”, this side of the Atlantic?) don’t let it distract you from the song, not least the killer chorus that eagerly trampolenes off the down-and-dirty verse.

Next come the brace of “So Long” – the preview single, albeit a single limited in physical form to a measly twenty copies – and “A Beaten Up Guitar”, and again these tunes are much more accelerator than brake, all heady swirls of thrilling fuzzfade POP. Only the gentle caress of “Out On The Highline” sees the pace drop; that reassuring lull in tempo you often get as half-time approaches.

On side two of the vinyl (that this should be on), and positively *launchingitself out of the blocks, is “A Dream Of Her Own”, one hell of a treat and a song which in a just universe would be the biggest of several hit singles on display. The cascading chorus really is a dream, and the guitars simply crackle with effervescent glee.

And then, after the brief respite of “The Outsider”, all seductive shimmer and slow waltz, come a rip-roaring trio of guitar-driven power pop janglers which provide as strong a finish as we’ve heard to any album in recent years: “Gene Machine”, “Fire Away” (perhaps the song which most faithfully mirrors their 80s/90s stompers, with bonus extra shouting in the background - well, it is set in a pub) and the knowing, somewhat triumphant playout “Finished With The Past”. MORE FIRE. There are fragments of these songs that could have come from the Wedding Present’s vast armoury, and I only hope that you lot have been reading this blog long enough to know that comparison, coming from us, is oceans away from damning with faint praise.

We did genuinely reckon that “Pop Fiction” was the best Popguns album yet, but we’re now having to revise that opinion: we now have a new ‘go to’ pop record, probably the best 'indie' album of 2017 so far. A winner by miles: Theresa, this is what a landslide looks like.